Psychokinesis: The Great Unwatched
In our search through some of the best oddities Netflix has to offer, a look at this Korean superhero movie in which a middle-aged security guard develops some surprising new abilities
It's the golden age of sitting in the house, streaming multiple TV shows at once or watching a brand-new film in the bath. But for every mega-hit like Game of Thrones or Marriage Story there are dozens of freshly-made series and films just waiting to be discovered, and hundreds of hours of classics sitting there with no-one watching them. That's what this new series is all about – unearthing some of the most interesting, intriguing and inexplicable wonders on Netflix, BBC iPlayer, MUBI, All 4, and the various other streaming platforms you're subscribed to.
Seok-heon is your common or garden schlub – an instant coffee-thieving mall security guard who dresses all in grey and generally leads a pretty hapless existence. That is until he drinks some meteor-infected water on his morning job, and becomes imbued with some new superhero-calibre abilities. Those abilities include, but are not entirely limited to, the Psychokinesis of the title.
This new power leads him into conflict with the dodgy, mafia-like property developers trying to bulldoze his estranged daughter’s chicken restaurant, along with those of her fellow stallholders. Seok-heon then faces the three-pronged challenge of honing his newfound skills, reconnecting with his daughter, and taking down The Man. In short, he’s got a lot going on.
Psychokinesis: the cast and crew
Unless you're particularly familiar with Korean TV and cinema, you might not recognise many faces, but you may well have heard of the man behind the camera. Writer/director Yeon Sang-Ho’s background is in animation, with his only other live action film being the breakout ‘zombies on the railroad’ thriller Train to Busan, but throughout his work there are themes of social unrest and class conflict.
Yeon's 2016 film Seoul Station tells the tale of a zombie revolution in the Korean capital, and, as our Rachel Bowles wrote at the time, "ingeniously makes a zombie apocalypse look like the natural progression of a society already rotten and diseased to its core." That write-up also pointed out some tonal inconsistencies, which... well, let's just call that 'foreshadowing'.
What’s Psychokinesis like?
Inconsistent. In the first two acts, the tone veers from goofy (snake charming to demonstrate your powers, a grand fight scene that turns into something of a mini-dance number) to serious (bereavement, parental abandonment) and back again. It’s a bit jarring to begin with, but things really pick up in the final third.
Crucially for a superhero film, Psychokinesis’ visual effects are excellent, with some jaw-dropping shots of objects psychically moving around the place. The sight of a middle-aged man limply ‘flying’ through the air is inherently hilarious, but it’s delivered with such precision that you can’t help but be impressed.
The performances are pretty great across the board, with a special mention due for Jung Yu-mi as the Big Bad who’s ultimately responsible for all of our protagonists’ woes, playing it as the classic smarter-than-thou movie bastard. This is an action film with a real sense of humour, but with a serious message about the ills of gentrification and the ways in which the power imbalances of capitalism are weaponised against those who can’t fight back. When the developers come up against the magical abilities of Seok-heon, they don’t try to negotiate, or leave the group of working-class stallholders alone; they just set a shitload of heavily-armed riot police on them.
Why watch Psychokinesis now?
If Parasite has you hankering for more Korean class satire; if you’re looking for a superhero film where a militarised police force aren’t portrayed as benignly helping the good guys.
Is Psychokinesis worth watching?
Yes, particularly if you’re a superhero movie connoisseur. It’s a bit all over the place at times, but its mix of family drama and well-choreographed action makes for an entertaining watch. Hang in there and wait for all the pieces to fall into place; you won’t be disappointed when they all get flung around in the action-packed grand finale.
What to watch next
Extreme Job: A group of Korean undercover cops on a stake-out accidentally start a phenomenally successful fried chicken restaurant, as you do.
The Host: The breakthrough film from Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, this tale of a giant reptilian beast rising up from the Seoul river has a similar blend of VFX-powered and family drama, only with more monsters. It’s currently streaming on MUBI.
Psychokinesis is streaming now on Netflix